Bradford on the cusp of Wembley dream final
Bradford City 3
Aston Villa 1
This was a classic cup tie, a gem of a game containing a performance of great vibrancy and belief from League Two's Bradford City that will linger long in their fans' memory.
"Que sera, sera, we're going to Wembley,'' they chanted at the final whistle, while bidding a cheeky farewell to the Premier League guests of "can we play you every week?"
They will again in a fortnight. Villa need to improve; they were so poor here, lacking leadership, a cutting edge and with a defence that resembled statues at times. Paul Lambert's side left a jubilant Valley Parade with Andreas Weimann's away goal but no guarantee they will resist the attacking surges of Nahki Wells, Zavon Hines and Co in the second leg.
Such had been Bradford's excellence for an hour, their determined, intelligent football having the ground rocking with delight, that Paul Lambert sent on Darren Bent, partnering him with Christian Benteke. That was the ultimate compliment to Bradford, who had been grateful to Matt Duke's brilliance in goal but also the leadership of Gary Jones, the wing-play of Hines and the opportunism of Wells, who took his first-half goal well.
Such was Villa's early energy and movement that Benteke could have laid claim to the match-ball after 15 minutes.The tempo was breathlessly high, Villa storming upfield time after time. Bradford were fortunate that Benteke's radar was awry in the opening stages. First he headed a Barry Bannan corner over. Then he wasted another Bannan corner, heading wide. In between Carl McHugh, the Bradford centre-half, blocked a shot from Charles N'Zogbia.
Bradford, calm and measured, were building, resisting Villa surges, and looking to score, constantly foraging down the right. Bennett dawdled and was knocked over by Wells. Then Hines and Darby combined and Shay Given leapt to clutch the cross.
Bradford then forced a corner through Hines, although Bennett appealed in vain for a foul. The 2010 World Cup pair of Howard Webb and Mike Mullarkey rarely make mistakes and they were adamant this was a corner. Gary Jones swung the ball across and Benteke headed clear.
Hines seized on the loose ball, drilled it, and enabled Well to finish. Villa's defence was static, too slow to respond to the danger. Once again, nobody was prepared to take responsibility.
The Villa fans, populating one side of the ground, began to seethe with frustration. Bannan's failure to retain possession angered a few. Continued failure to take chances was another bone of contention.
Weimann found Benteke but he was having one of those halves, and his shot was saved.
Bradford were in such confident mood now, playing with a purpose that belied their status. Gary Jones swung in another corner and James Hanson headed powerfully goalwards only for Delph to clear off the line. Yet they were still grateful to Duke for a series of saves. As the half closed, Bradford's keeper somehow blocked a strong shot from Agbonlahor after N'Zogbia's clever run in.
As the second half opened, Duke was again to the fore, keeping out a Benteke header.Bent could have equalised, volleying over, then heading badly over from close range before sustaining an injury that seemed to inhibit him.
Bradford never stopped believing, never stopped looking for a second. Fittingly, their captain, Jones, made the second goal, opening up a yard of space and lifting in a cross that McArdle headed powerfully in with Villa's defenders like statues. It could have become worse for Villa when Hanson hit the woodwork with 10 minutes remaining.
This was an amazing tie, everyone on their feet, willing their teams on. Villa somehow found a goal, mainly Weimann's willingness to take a clattering as he lifted the ball over Duke.
There was another twist. Villa looked to be heading back home having sustained only a narrow defeat but Bradford were determined to plump up their cushion. Once again, Villa's defence froze as a ball went flying in. This time McHugh beat Given. Villa Park will be tense. (© Daily Telegraph, London)